Recently, I’ve taken to letting “Scarlet A-Holes” know why their constant confusion of atheist polemic with our campaign to get rid of SRI in state schools in Victoria is a problem.
A “Scarlet A-Hole” is anyone who has bought into the framing of atheism that Richard Dawkins has offered up, and generally it is anyone who can’t keep the distinction between “anti-religious polemic” and “good public policy” clear in their heads, and definitely it is anyone who has agreed with Dawkins that Atheism needs to be “out” and marked by a “Scarlet A”.
Let me also be clear that I’m not just on a rant “against” atheism, but I have something to say about this because, whether I like it or not, Scarlet A-Hole’s show up in my life constantly, ironically because of the good things I’ve done for them. When I tell them, in the same, uncompromising terms that they feel should be applied to entire swaths of humanity, that THEY are being are idiots, they turn on me personally. To which I say, “screw you scarlet A-hole” (hey, he can’t say that!, you must apologise!).
I’d like to offer a “teachable moment” to try to explain how, bringing your “atheist polemic” into my campaign which addresses a problem of a religious nature, does in fact make my life harder. Then, from this rather minor example, I’ll give a few more, just to explain why I think that the cause of the problem is in fact “atheist polemic” and not just a few bad apples who can’t think straight. Atheists are not born this way, they are encouraged by their heroes to be un-helpful (to me).
So, here is what happened. Yesterday, I sat down and addressed a blog post to Mandy Bowes, who I suspect is an SRI instructor in Victoria. Like many SRI instructors in Victoria, her once a week volunteer job, “Sharing the Love of God and His Son Jesus” with my child, via my school, via a policy known as “SRI” (details matter but look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about), is about to go extinct. For example, it has gone extinct in Kew, where FIRIS has made the school “SRI” free, with the specific help of “religious people”.
Don’t get me wrong, what I wrote was not intended to be “kind” or sympathetic to Ms. Bowes, whom I assert is “doing harm”. What I had to say however was very specific, and didn’t go beyond the facts or what I would be happy to defend to anyone.
Within an hour of my posting this on or webpage, where I intended her to see it, almost like clockwork, someone amplifies what I wrote by adding their $.02:
This comment is a classic example of how “atheist polemic” doesn’t work in real life. It is a classic example of why it is important to use the right words and to know what you are talking about and to have thought about things, before you try to “help” FIRIS (or me), because invariably, my adversaries want me to be you, and I’m not you. I don’t wear a Giant Red A and stand neatly in ordered rows out in the open where I can easily be gunned down by the smarter, more committed, better financed and better educated people who I’m trying to defeat. To quote Mel Gibson, “aim small, miss small”.
This comment, contains all the elements that make “atheist polemics” exciting, pant wetting moments for “Scarlet A-holes”: first the use of the word “stupid”, religion is a fairy tale (check), and then the headline grabber, “it is child abuse”, and to top it off, “you’re a child abuser” (check, check and check) … well who knew! Richard Dawkins says it, it must be true!
What am I supposed to do here? Thank this person for posting that on my page, where I have left it specifically to signal that teaching SRI is not something that parents (like me) appreciate, and that there will be war if you come into our schools and do this to our kids?
So watch what happens next:
James Lane, who is among the people who want to stand up and defend the policy that I’m arguing against, grabs onto this polemic, and uses it to discredit FIRIS, specifically what this does is changes the conversation from what is wrong with SRI, to what is wrong with “religion” and then ups the ante by absurdly bringing the idea of “abuse” into the discussion in a way that our argument does not. This makes Chuan Chew’s life harder (Chuan is among the parents who actually work on FIRIS, as opposed to the people who “like” FIRIS on FB, or unlike FIRIS on facebook because you got insulted by FIRIS) – thank Chuan, you’re awesome. James Lane may be a lot of things, including “wrong” but I assure you, he is not “stupid” and if I had to rank his intelligence, I’d guess it is was higher than anyone who has ever bought a scarlet A t-shirt from the RDFRS (god help us).
So this is what I mean by “atheist polemic” being harmful to the actual policy debate. The problem that some atheists have, especially ones who uncritically valorise men like Richard Dawkins, and since Richard Dawkins says these insanely illiberal and stupid things, they say them too. It is a “learned” trope. A “meme” if you will. Its a meme making dodo birds of you “Scarlet A-Holes”.
There is a difference between calling someone a “child abuser” and telling someone what what they are doing is “hurting your child” or “hurting education” or any of the thinks like this that I’ve said. But I don’t think Mandy Bowen is a “child abuser”. Calling her this only gives her something to make me look like an extremist about, and it takes away the meaning of “child abuse”. My argument is specific, and I’m happy to bring the actual children into the discussion to establish the harm (and I have done so). Child abuse is also something that signals other things, which crosses into territory where parents in our culture loose their rights, so when a public intellectual like Richard Dawkins goes there, it extracts a price that first of all makes atheism untenable as effective political speech, but also is hurtful in ways that are likely not well thought out.
What I dislike is that FIRIS puts in the hard yards, and then “Scarlet A-Holes show up to preen in public, ostensibly thinking that their “support” is meaningful to me. When I tell them they are idiots, they turn and attack me, for being “against atheism”. I’m for atheism, I’m just against using it to oppress the rights of others, this is really no different than being for Islam (I’m not a Muslim), but against its rules being made to bear on public institutions which I feel I have a right to influence. Do I wish to interfere with a Muslim father’s rights? Only in ways that I feel should apply to all citizens of this country.
Let’s consider for a second the how it would seem to a religious family to have to hear that their most cherished practices, customs and values are “child abuse”. Let us try to think beyond the limits of our own emotions about what this would mean.
Let’s say you are a Hindu family, or a Sikh family, just to pick two examples that I can speak about in specific. You support FIRIS’s aims but you are deeply uncomfortable about the way atheists carry on, because after all, being a Sikh or Hindu, is how you hope to raise your kids. Some Oxford professor is on the TV, sounding all the world like the “Britishers” (as they are called in your home country of India) who used to rule in India. If you really think that sincerely telling a Sikh family that their “ways” are abusive to their kids, is either true, or even remotely acceptable, you are an idiot.
Australians should be able to proudly say that you are free to be Sikh and an Australian. When a character like Dawkins wades into the education debate and give no real thought to the way religious families view these matters, and just wants to have a polemical assault on “religion” as if he is on a quest to rid us of it … well, lets just say that it has costs, especially if his ideas, become your policy convictions.
If atheists want to be relevant, they need to learn to think. Here is an example of how men like James Lane reason:
Here is an example of how atheists reason:
In the fist clip we see the kind of argument which is politically effective. That argument does in fact happen on the floor of parliament in Australia, and it convinces a lot of people, and this is more or less why the “Chaplaincy” program isn’t going away.
In the second clip, however, we see a typical “atheist polemic” brought into the public arena, by an ordinary bloke, his clothes indicate that he’s not speaking from the same platform as an Oxford professor, but notice how he’s saying the things that Dawkins or Hitchens would say. This is likely because he’s read or absorbed these polemics, and now, he has chosen to use this in public. A fraction of the audience of course loves this.
But this comment was not a great thing to do at that time at that place, it gave Justine a chance to seem reasonable and allowed her to give her predictable answer … and to take the conversation to a place where most people can’t follow because only atheists and theologians have any clue what the hell they are saying, and frankly this is what Justine Toh is happy to discuss, rather than the real world lives of our children. Memo to atheists: quoting Leviticus may feel like you scored a point, but to the average person it not on. So just like on the FIRIS webpage, at public events that are being argued by FIRIS’s A team of intellectuals, people reading from the atheist script show up and “grab the mic”. Did you really think that Tim Costello and Justine Toh weren’t going to eat you for dinner on that one? Bonzer.
Contrast this to a person reading off of the FIRIS script:
Thank you Ruben, thank you for using the air time to talk about why we were there in the first place, and thank you for speaking in a way that connected with everyone, pro and con, on this issue, and thank you for not acting out an “atheist polemic” up in public and doing something like ask religious people to tell you how they decide what is morally right (as the atheist questioner did).
Atheists, you have a problem. Its an intellectual problem, and I can show it to you, but I can’t make you think.
Keep in mind, I am not “bashing atheists”, which is very fashionable to resent. I’m saying something much more subtle, I’m saying that when you bring your “atheist polemics” into public debate, you make my life harder. When you say things like “religious indoctrination is child abuse” as opposed to what I’m saying, which is “our schools should not be venues for religious indoctrination” , you make it much harder for me to deliver you schools that don’t do religious indoctrination.
Second, I’d really like you to think about what you are saying (for a change), especially if you feel that your thoughts need to broadcast on our website or in public places like the Wheeler Centre. If you really think “religious indoctrination is child abuse” then you are a “scarlet A-hole” and you are totally out of touch. Men like Richi Madan, support FIRIS, but not because we promise to “rid the world of superstition and religious dogma”, but because a secular school system protects his interests, and my interests equally.
We also want a school system that makes a world in which children are not raised to be so vastly stupid that bash his children because they think, they’re Muslim and must be kept out of “their country” (leave aside the issue of why people want to kill members of that religious group whom they mistake him for), but your polemics are simply not good public policy. You haven’t thought it through.
To quote a recent line leveled at FIRIS: Atheists, if you can’t deal with this, we will.